WESTFIELD, NJ — Despite the pandemic leading to the cancellations of many large events and gatherings, Westfield High School senior Alexis Hammer is still holding out hope for an in-person graduation ceremony this year.
Hammer, the senior class president, published a letter, which she sent to Gov. Phil Murphy, on various social media platforms. The letter explains the necessity and practicality of hosting a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020. The post immediately went viral on Instagram and has racked up over 28,000 likes and 12,000 comments on Instagram.
“I am disappointed by your deeming graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020 not safe, yet you decided that opening the Jersey shore beaches is,” Hammer writes in her letter. “If people are allowed to social distance on beaches, then all New Jersey high school seniors should be allowed to have socially distanced graduations.”
Hammer’s inspiration for writing the letter came after Murphy announced the reopening of New Jersey beaches in time for Memorial Day weekend. The reopening plan involves social distancing, capacity limitations, sanitization and the closure of playgrounds, rides, arcades and other nonessential activities.
In her letter, Hammer said that graduation ceremonies are not “more of a health risk than preschool and elementary school kids wanting to play on the beach or waiting on the snack bar and public bathroom lines.”
According to Hammer, commencements could easily be made safer with chairs spread at least 6 feet apart, mandatory face masks, minimal contact, and the attendance of only students and faculty.
“I think that if he [Murphy] were to reevaluate and make some decision, whether it's a compromise, a postponement, or just something that would allow us to have an in-person celebration, I would be happy with that,” Hammer told TAPinto Westfield. “But ultimately, I really just want my voice to be heard, and to receive a response from him and know that he acknowledged and considered what I said would be a great accomplishment.”
Earlier this week, Murphy was questioned at his COVID-19 Task Force Briefing if school districts should continue to hope for an in-person commencement in the summer.
“Should school districts, should students, should moms and dads hold out hope that we can somehow have some form of an in-person commencement?” Murphy said. “The answer is they should hold out hope. I have that same hope. I've got nothing to report, but I have that same hope.”
Hammer has yet to receive a response from Murphy or a representative. Still, she hopes to continue to spread her message by utilizing her platform as Senior Class President and “coming together with more class presidents from other schools” in order to receive support and recognition.
Hammer’s message has been supported by people tagging the post to Murphy’s own social media platforms and by others agreeing with her message. However, she has also dealt with a great deal of negative comments.
“I’ve been responding to some people who have taken direct digs at me as a person and some people have apologized. It’s better when everyone has civil conversations about their opinions because I’m going to respect what everyone says — it’s just when people are mean to me directly that it doesn't really bode well,” said Hammer.
Still, Hammer said that “everyone being able to celebrate their achievements as the Class of 2020 is the most important thing.”
In a virtual school board meeting earlier this week, Westfield School District Superintendent Margaret Dolan said that graduation plans are not yet finalized but that there is a timeline of events to commemorate this year’s seniors.
Shreya Jyotishi is a sophomore at Westfield High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.